Ten steps to starting your own business
Are you finally ready to start your own business?
Was your New Year's resolution to open a small business, begin a new venture? If so, you're probably wondering where to start.
Let me show you some essential steps.
One of the first things to figure out is what kind of business you want, what products or services to sell. But I'm going to assume you've got that figured out.
And I'm not discussing strategy — things that determine long-term success, like developing a business plan, defining your target market, figuring out your pricing.
Nope, I'm focusing on 10 key nitty-gritty details that will actually get your business under way:
• Choose a business name. Most people spend way too much time agonizing over just the right name.
Remember, you can build a successful business with a pretty boring name (Microsoft? Ford?) Don't let this paralyze you.
Your business name should be clear but not so specific that you can't grow with it. But definitely check that someone else doesn't already own the name, online at the Patent and Trademark Office, www.uspto.gov.
• Get a domain name. Before you become totally enamored with your company name, check out available domain names that fit.
Sure, your business email address could be KitsCupcakes@yahoo.com, but after you've been in business awhile, that doesn't look professional. Check domain names at Network Solutions, NetworkSolutions.com.
You'll almost certainly find that the name you want for your domain name is already taken — at least with a dot-com suffix. Try a dot-net or another suffix. Avoid hyphens and dot-org.
• Get business cards. Even if you work from home, you need business cards.
They should include your name, email address, website, phone number, and perhaps your Facebook, Twitter or other social-media handles. I also like putting a short phrase describing what you do.
You can find lots of inexpensive, high-quality printers locally or on the Web.
• Get an accounting program. Forget the shoebox, the notebook or the Excel spreadsheet.
Right from the start, get in the habit of using a business accounting program to keep track of your books.
Quickbooks is the small-business standard. I would start with the online version, Quickbooks Online, quickbooksonline.intuit.com.
• Bill your clients. If you're going to bill clients by the hour, you'll want some way to do time-tracking and invoicing. Check out FreshBooks, FreshBooks.com.
• Keep track of contacts. Learn this abbreviation: CRM.
It stands for customer relationship management, and it's a fancy way of referring to a system of keeping track of all your contacts, customers, and contacts with them. The granddaddy of CRM is Salesforce.com.
• Store your documents. If you're keeping all your important business information on your laptop, what happens if you lose it, drop it, or have it stolen?
Get in the habit right away of storing all your data in the cloud where it's immediately backed up off site. We use Dropbox, Dropbox.com, in our office, and it's great for collaboration with other employees and contractors, too.
• Get an email newsletter service. Don't be misled by the word “newsletter.”
These online services don't just enable you to easily and quickly send newsletters to your contact list, you also can use them to send any kind of announcement including sales and product launches, conduct surveys, even send individual birthday wishes automatically.
Many small businesses like the simplicity and price — free for up to 2,000 contacts — of MailChimp, MailChimp.com.
• Set up a basic website. You don't have to do this the first day you start your business.
But pretty quickly, you'll want at least a simple, even one-page, website to make you look more legitimate. One free way to get a simple website is with Weebly, Weebly.com.
• Work on your elevator pitch. Finally, you have to start networking, meeting people to get the word out about your business.
You'll need a quick, clear, and memorable way to explain what you do — that's your elevator pitch. Get guidance on how to create a great elevator pitch from tutorials I did for USA Today's Small Business Start-Up series, usatoday30.usatoday.com/money/smallbusiness/startup/week4-your-elevator-pitch.htm and usatoday30.usatoday.com/money/smallbusiness/startup/week4.htm
So go ahead, make the leap. You're on your way to becoming an entrepreneur.
Rhonda Abrams is president of The Planning Shop and publisher of books for entrepreneurs; Facebook: facebook.com/RhondaAbramsSmallBusiness.